No “Justice for All”



Three decades ago, I stood in a Tampa courtroom and, with dozens of other starry-eyed immigrants, I raised my right hand and recited these words:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I believed every word of it then. Sadly, I no longer do.

I am now convinced that justice in America is not a right that belongs to all. I believe justice is reserved for a privileged class, mostly white, with good jobs and nice clothes.

Michael Brown did not belong to that class. He was a young, black male. And America has – once again – been put on notice: Young, black males are fair game for white killers.

Darren Wilson will go down in history as one of those white killers. Wilson shot Brown to death on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, in broad daylight before numerous witnesses. And he will not be charged with any crime.

A grand jury with nine white and three black members has ruled that Wilson was justified in killing the unarmed 18-year-old.

Darren Wilson is a cop. A white cop.

Apparently, cops have the right to kill civilians they see as  “threatening.” And, it is increasingly apparent that, in this republic, any young, black male is, by definition, threatening.

Brown was a burly, black teenager, easy to depict as a bully. He is accused of grabbing a box of cigarillos and walking out of a corner store without paying for them. A store video shows him shoving the shopkeeper out of the way as he leaves.

Wilson is weedy looking and would obviously be no match for Brown in a physical confrontation. But Wilson had a gun. Brown did not.

Iwilsonn his grand jury testimony, Wilson said he drew his gun because Brown was punching him in the face (photo at right) as he sat in his police car. He testified:

I felt another one of those punches in my face would knock me out or worse. I mean, it was, he’s obviously bigger than I was, and stronger, and the—I’ve already taken two to the face, and I don’t think I would—the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.

Wilson said that Brown also tried to grab his gun. But that was not when the fatal shots were fired.

According to prosecutor Robert McCulloch, Wilson fired 12 times during the confrontation with Brown. Most of the shots were fired after Brown fled from the scene.

To believe McCulloch’s version of events, you have to visualize Brown as a raging bull, fearless and mindless, charging Wilson with his head down and his arms pawing the air like some wounded jungle beast.

That was quite different from the version presented by eyewitnesses who appeared on TV after the shooting. They said Brown was running away and, when Wilson kept shooting at him, stopped and turned to face the policeman, raising his hands above his head in a gesture of surrender.

A majority on the grand jury obviously accepted McCulloch’s version, strange as it might sound to you or me.

I find it hard to believe that any sane person – black or white – would turn and charge a gunman like that. It would obviously be suicidal. But I grew up in Jamaica, and my view of young, black males is different from the image the members of that jury must have had.

Click for Wilson’s story.

Click for another view of American justice.

Click for the pledge of allegiance.

Click for more photos of Wilson’s injuries.

Click for another shooting.


To Give or Not to Give?



As Christmas approaches, you are once again facing the Big Question: What to give to whom.

You can figure out Aunt Martha’s gift for yourself. Nothing you do will probably be right, anyway. But when it comes to the charities, I have a word of advice for you: Google them first.

A few nights ago the phone rang and Sandra answered it. I heard her murmuring assent and wondered what she was getting us into this time. I was reassured to hear that she had agreed to donate some clothes to veterans. Not just veterans – paralyzed veterans.

If ever there was a worthy cause, this had to be it.

We took special care to find some nice things to leave out for them to collect. We rummaged through the closets, looking for clothes we thought paralyzed veterans would appreciate. I included a suit that looked almost new and one of my favorite sports coats. Sandra’s sacrifices included a sexy negligee ensemble, as well as an elegant skirt and a designer handbag (yes, paralyzed veterans include women, too).

I even found a suitcase to put the stuff in. It was one of those with wheels that you can tug along through airports instead of carrying it. What paralyzed veteran wouldn’t appreciate something like that?

We packed the suitcase and I took it out to the curb.

But Sandra started having second thoughts. Would our stuff get to the paralyzed veterans, she wondered. Or would someone make off with the suitcase during the night? Who were these people, anyway? Would they keep the nice stuff for themselves? Was this a reputable organization? And so on…

All right, I conceded. I’ll look them up on the web.

I came across warnings about all kinds of scams using veterans to collect money from the gullible public.  Could anyone sink that low? Could they sink to using veterans to line their pockets?

I’m afraid so. One article I found was headed: “Our Veterans Deserve Better from America’s Charities.” And a list rating the various veterans charities was just as depressing.

Our group – Paralyzed Veterans of America – scored an F on the list. From what I read, only $6 million of the $82 million they collected ended up in veterans’ pockets.

Indeed, nearly half of the 30 veterans charities on the list got a failing grade. Only seven got n A+ or A.

Sandra’s instincts were right, as usual.

No way were we going to give our nice things to a charity with a failing grade. As soon as I turned off the computer, I headed for the curb to retrieve our suitcase and its contents.

I found an old cardboard box, and filled it with some of my golf shirts (I know I’m sure to get golf shirts for Christmas) and some other clothes that I wouldn’t miss. Sandra reclaimed her negligee set and her skirt but left the handbag and a few other things.

Of course we feel bad about the paralyzed vets, but we would have felt worse about being scammed.

So many of America’s charities are phony – or at least partially phony. Even well known groups like the Red Cross siphon off a big chunk of the donations they get to “administrative costs.” The people running the show often pocket fat salaries and enjoy juicy expense accounts.

To an old “Socialist” like me, it’s one more reason for the government to take the responsibility for alleviating people’s suffering.

It’s all very well to argue that charity should be a personal choice, but with so many scam artists about, I feel a lot safer with the bureaucrats managing the handouts.

Click for ratings given veterans charities.

Click for a news report on the scams.

Click for tips on charitable giving.


A Bold Act of Kindness



He said he would and he will. President Obama is keeping his promise to America’s undocumented immigrants. With a stroke of his pen, he is brightening the lives of some 5 million men, women and children who have been living in constant fear of deportation.

He announced the historic action last night in a speech the TV networks didn’t bother to carry.

The roars of furious Republicans are echoing across America of course.

He is a dictator, they yell. He is “imperious.” (Who taught them that word, I wonder.) His executive order is a “partisan bomb” that may cause “violence” and “anarchy” and might even warrant a “jail penalty,” – at least according to some Republican members of Congress.

Some critics – notably those at Fox News – falsely accused President Obama of granting amnesty to lawbreakers … and on and on and on…

The hullabaloo is sure to continue for at least the next two years.

Expect another lawsuit. Expect impeachment proceedings. Expect the President’s act of kindness to be a big campaign issue in 2016.

You will be hearing a lot more about the pros and cons of this historic action in the weeks and months to come. But, to me, the issue is simply one of Christian charity. Two letters in my Yahoo mail this morning go to the heart of the matter.

One is from the Service Employees International Union, and it’s signed by “Joy  O,” an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines.

Here’s an excerpt:

As a live-in home care worker, I work five days a week caring for a patient who is 90 years old, wheelchair-bound and recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I am her daily companion. I manage her medications, cook her food, bathe her and do the housekeeping, Most of all, I keep her safe. After 3 years of caring for her, I consider her my family. If I were deported, who would care for her?

Thanks to the President’s courage, I can let go of this constant cycle of worry. For myself and millions of immigrants, no more living and working in fear. We can walk a new path out and continue to fight forward for a lasting immigration solution.

The other letter is from “Mehrdad, Jacob and the rest of the team” at the National People’s Action group. After rejoicing in the fact that the President has freed millions “from the fear of being ripped from their families by deportations,” the letter makes the point that the job is not finished.

Here’s what it says::

This is a huge victory for all of us, especially those who have tirelessly fought to keep their families together. Because the President took bold action, millions of undocumented immigrants will be able to go to work, drop their children off at school, and go to worship without the fear of deportation.

Today’s announcement is a huge step forward, but Congress still needs to act. Make no mistake, we’ll keep fighting until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform that keeps all families together.

The way I see it, that’s what members of Congress should be talking about instead of mindlessly jabbering about dictators and emperors.

Click for the speech the networks didn’t carry.

Click for John Boehner’s reaction.

Click for more Republican outrage.

Click for Paul Krugman’s sane assessment.


An Unappreciated Boon


The modern toilet has to be one of the most unappreciated wonders of the world. You probably take it for granted as you linger over the comics pages of your newspaper, knowing all you have to do is pull that little lever when you’re through with your morning ablutions and go on your merry way.

Yet, in this imperfect world, flushing is a privilege reserved for a fortunate few.

Today, which has been declared World Toilet Day by those wise people at the UN, we honor the humble water closet, originally invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596 but ignored and even ridiculed at first.

The device was perfected by a series of other inventors over the years, and popularized by the legendary Thomas Crapper nearly three centuries later.

I understand that in Shakespeare’s day, folks did what they had to do in pails and tossed the results out into the streets of London. I imagine the people of other European countries did something similar.

And when the first immigrants arrived in America from England, they brought their slop pails with them. I can find no historical record of what they did with the contents.

As a child in Jamaica, I occasionally had to use an outhouse (top photo) at some relative’s rural home. And it was an experience you don’t easily forget. One I recall had two holes, and it crossed my mind that the person who built it must have expected communal use of the facility. My childish imagination ran amok.

Those outhouses did wonders for the circulation of The Daily Gleaner, though. Come to think of it, the rise of the water closet in America may be one reason for the decline of print journalism.

There’s a more serious side to world sanitation of course. A tragic side.

In a article this morning, Joanna Rothkopf reports that 10 million of the world’s children, 5 years old or younger, have died since the year 2000 because they didn’t have access to toilets. She adds:

Approximately 2.5 billion people around the world lack access to the most basic sanitation facilities, while 1.8 billion drink water contaminated with bodily waste, causing widespread disease that is wholly preventable.

Obviously, this horror must be ended, and there are dedicated individuals doing their best to end it.  The World Toilet Organization reports that from 1990 to 2012, 2.3 billion people around the world gained access to an improved drinking-water source.

There’s a lot more to be done, and the UN is making improved sanitation one of its “clear priorities.”

The declaration of World Toilet Day is part of the organization’s effort to raise awareness of the issue.

Click for the article.

Click for more on the urgency of the issue.

Click for more on your toilet’s history.


Splintered America



Barack Obama once famously declared that there is no blue America or red America. He insisted that the 300 million-plus inhabitants of this country are Americans first, not political partisans. I wonder whether he believes that today?

I see not just a red and blue America but a patchwork of colors, and I see the colors splintering and multiplying as in a kaleidoscope.

It seems to me that the two-party system is becoming an anachronism.

The GOP has been a house divided for some time, and, in the aftermath of those disastrous midterms,  the Democratic Party is coming apart at the seams.

Every top Democrat is blaming somebody else for the party’s humiliating defeat, and some Democrats are showing signs of desperation.

Their willingness to vote for the XL pipeline is a case in point. They were ready to abandon their sense of right and wrong for political expediency. They figured voting for the pipeline would boost Senator Mary Landrieu’s chances in Louisiana, which depends on its oil refineries to sustain its economy.

That’s the kind of politics that America is sick of. It’s what kept a lot of Democrats at home in the midterms. They didn’t vote because they didn’t know what they would be voting for.

You know the party is in poor shape when Senator Bernie Sanders decides to run for the presidency (as he seems to be doing). He is an Independent but has caucused with the Democrats for decades.

A lot of Progressives would be tempted to vote for Bernie if he ran against Hillary in 2016.

Surely, Bernie and Hillary can find some “common ground”? Perhaps she could select him as her running mate.

But it’s hard to find common ground in America today. The interests of one group conflict with the interests of another. For one group to succeed, another group must pay the price.

It’s health care for seniors or school lunches for children, affordable meals or starvation wages, a living wage or more jobs, the environment and wildlife or jobs in the coal mines and oil fields … that kind of thing. It’s classic divide-and-rule politics and it’s as old as Philip of Macedonia.

I am tempted to blame the Republicans, but I know the infamous One Percent fund both major parties. It doesn’t seem to matter who gets voted into power, the rich still get richer and the poor still get shafted.

What’s the answer? I do not know.

But this I know for sure, major changes must occur in America’s political system for any hope of “common ground” to be possible.

Perhaps a new John Kennedy-type leader will emerge who can persuade Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.”

Click for more on Senator Landrieu and the pipeline.

Click for more on the pipeline.


Jamaica “Unknown”



I watched Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” Sunday night because CNN promised he would be showcasing Jamaica. But the hour-long show left me feeling the Jamaica they visited was, indeed, unknown. To me, anyway.

Bourdain, swinging in a hammock at some still undeveloped beach on the North Shore, described the place as “Paradise.” To me, it looked rather boring – sand and sea… and more sand and more sea…

The Jamaica I was born in, the Jamaica I lived in until I was 19 and returned to live in three times later on, was nothing like that.

To me Jamaica is not just beaches but also mountains, not just seaside caves but also secluded waterfalls and murmuring streams and wooded hillsides, not just fishing hamlets but also vibrant cities, not just reggae, ganja and dreadlocks but also  theatre and dance and symphony orchestras, an internationally accredited university, centuries-old artifacts at the Jamaica Institute, gourmet dining and dancing under a star-studded sky.

A perfect day in the Jamaica of my memories would start with breakfast at Morgan’s Harbour, lunch at Devon House, a round of golf at Caymanas, afternoon tea at Strawberry Ridge and dinner at the Blue Mountain Inn. And, late into the night, there would be dancing at a nightclub in Kingston or at one of the North Coast hotels.

(Do any of those places still exist? I wonder.)

Would there be ackee and saltfish? Probably. Well prepared, that Jamaican standard ranks right up there with the tastiest dishes in the world, especially when it’s complemented by roast breadfruit and avocado pear. And for dessert, there would be the most wonderful fruits in the world – according to the season, a Bombay or St. Julien mango, a custard apple or sweetsop, or a star apple, ripe bananas of course… or a tropical fruit salad that must be tasted to be believed…

But what I saw Bourdain eating at the beach looked rather unappetizing… his ackee and saltfish came with a burnt chunk of breadfruit and a piece of boiled green banana, and his curry goat was accompanied by “pigeon peas” (is that gungo peas?). Not my choice for a great dining experience.

Of course, he had to sample the world famous Jamaican jerk chicken.

But, come to think of it, I don’t recall eating jerk chicken as a child. I remember jerk pork – chunks of meat from wild hogs hunted in the Blue Mountains and slow-roasted over a barbecue pit. As I recall, we would be driving home to Portland from Kingston and my father would stop to buy jerk pork from a vendor at the side of the road.

At the other extreme in Bourdain’s Jamaica was The Trident, in Portland, the parish where I spent most of my early childhood. My parents  belonged to Boston Beach Club at San San, almost next door to The Trident. And I can tell you we did not have acrobatic dancing waiters or fire eaters to entertain us, as Michael Lee-Chin, the billionaire owner of The Trident, did on the CNN show.

As depicted on the show, the lifestyle of Chris Blackwell, the reggae baron, also seemed somewhat distasteful, his occupancy of Golden Eye seemed a little sacrilegious.

The Jamaica CNN left with me was a rustic backwater, about to be despoiled by resort developers, peopled by the obscenely rich and the destitute but happy natives, whose birthright was in danger.

I don’t remember that Jamaica. It’s sad indeed if my magical homeland has come to this.

Click for Michael-Lee Chin’s resort plans.

Click for more on Chris Blackwell.

Click for things to do in Jamaica (besides lying in a hammock).


Lighting a Candle



Stunned and dispirited by events in America, the country I have chosen for the rest of my days, I could hardly muster the emotional strength to write a blog today. And then I read two items in my mailbox that put events in perspective, awakening me to the fact that I am, after all, a lucky dog.

It’s a harsh world out there.

But hope persists, and in a world of pain, Good Samaritans labor tirelessly to provide what relief they can.

That’s what I got from two items in this morning’s Yahoo mail. One was an email from a friend, Margaret, in Orlando about the rescue of a slave girl in Nepal. The other was a comment (on a blog I wrote some time ago) reminding me of the work being done to alleviate the misery of Haitian orphans.

I couldn’t find Nepal on a map. I think it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of China or India. But I lived in Haiti, and I saw the wretched conditions in which so many Haitian children live. Images of those tiny emaciated bodies still haunt me.

So I confess without shame that the comment from out of the blue this morning made my eyelids smart. Not only from sympathy but also from a tinge of guilt.

Here is the comment:

That is what “Sustainable Orphanages for Haitian Young people” is. It is everyone, despite where we live, working together to produce a much better globe and a better life for kids who will take our motivation and make something out of it.

I know that some of those Haitian “orphanages” have turned out to be scams, in which horribly abused children are used as props by evil people to wring money from foreigners.

But I also witnessed good people making an effort to minister to those Haitian orphans – and to the myriad sick children and adults in Haiti. And I wish I had done more in my life to help others. I have my excuses, of course. But still… You know what I mean.

Margaret’s email told the story of Suma (photo above), who was rescued from slavery and is receiving the empowering gift of an education.

Nepal is so very far away, and we never hear or read about the wretched conditions there. But, according to the story accompanying Margaret’s email:

Millions of people around the world have watched the film “Girl Rising” — which features a segment about Suma, a courageous girl that Nepal Youth Foundation rescued from Kamlari child slavery and is currently supporting in vocational school.

When Suma was only nine years old, extreme poverty forced her family to “sell” her labor to their landlord as part of a sharecropping arrangement. For years, Suma slept in a goat shed and ate scraps from her master’s plate, spending long days and nights doing housework and chores.

In 2007, after six years of servitude, Suma was rescued by Sita Tharu, an NYF staff member. Since then, NYF has provided Suma with a variety of services to help her build a new life. She attended school and is now enrolled in a Medical Assistant training course as part of NYF’s Vocational Education and Career Counseling Program.

Perhaps the film will open the eyes of the world and bring more help for the enslaved children of Nepal.

It’s an encouraging story, the kind that renews our faith in human nature. Yes, we live in a world of bad people, but there are good people, too. And they’re out there, working to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

I regret not being one of them. And you know I will probably just continue to sit here and curse the darkness.

Click for more on the Haitian “orphanages” scam.

Click for more on Haitian orphanages.

Click for more on Suma.

Click for more on “Girl Rising.”


The Springsteen Paradox



In any society where personal freedom is prized, you are bound to find ironic contradictions. Like the freedom to try and curtail the personal freedom of others.

And you will find that contradiction today in America as a large and growing movement seeks to impose the will of its members on the rest of us.

Some members of the movement call themselves Christians. Others call themselves patriots. Some profess to be both.

I am convinced they are neither Christians nor patriots. In their hearts, they are tyrants.

The folks attacking Bruce Springsteen, for example. They obviously think they are being patriotic. I think they are un-American.

To me dissent is one of the most important freedoms in this amazing country. The freedom to disagree with your government’s policies is as American as apple pie.

And so is Bruce Springsteen (photo above).

“The Boss” was among a bevy of stars who headlined a nationally televised Veterans Day concert, and he chose as one of his numbers Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.”

If you’re old enough to remember the Vietnam War, you will probably remember Creedence Clearwater Revival and you might also remember these lyrics from “Fortunate Son”:

Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Oh, they only answer, more, more, more, oh

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no military son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one

It’s one of those protest songs bred by a shameful period in America’s history.  It’s an example of the kind of dissent Americans are able to express without fear. And this freedom is rare in our tyrannical world.

Springsteen’s selection has sparked outrage from some “conservatives,” who don’t get America.

Ironically, while all this was going on, Springsteen was being honored for his outstanding contributions to America’s veterans. Yes, irony is alive and well in the USA.

But, thankfully, so is freedom – including the freedom to dissent.

Click for more on the concert.

Click for more on the Springsteen award.


The Immigration Dilemma

TimeAccording to people who should know, President Obama is about to take unilateral action on America’s vexing immigration problem. They predict he will block deportation of undocumented immigrants with American-born children – or with children who have become American citizens or legal residents –  as well as those who were brought to America as children.

Criminals and drug smugglers will still be deported, of course.

It would be a very humane act, ending the constant terror that so many in America must endure and the heartache of so many families torn apart by harsh enforcement of immigration law. But, as an immigrant who waited patiently to get here, I wonder: Is it fair?

Of course nothing about America’s immigration laws is fair. Is it fair to allow Cubans to stay once their feet touch American soil while rounding up Haitians and shipping them home?

Is it fair to welcome the highly skilled and wealthy while turning away the poor and unskilled?

I don’t know what it takes now, but in my youth if you had a hundred thousand dollars to invest you were home free, but if you were a reporter looking for a job, you had to wait in line. And it was a long, long line.

Not fair.

But when it comes to unfair treatment, those unfortunates who risk their lives to cross America’s Mexican border are more sinned against than sinning. Many of them are lured to America by unscrupulous employers seeking cheap labor or workers to fill jobs Americans won’t take. Others are enticed by crooks who take their money on a false promise to bring them safely to the Promised Land.

They suffer unspeakable abuse and hardship – and even risk death – in their desperation to find a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. The United Nations has quite reasonably declared that those unaccompanied children who flooded the America-Mexico border recently are refugees, not “illegal immigrants.”

However perplexing the moral question may be, the bottom line is that as many as 12 million people may be in America illegally, and there’s no way they could all be rounded up and deported.

Some means of accommodation must be found for them. They cannot forever live in the shadows, vulnerable to employers’ exploitation and blackmail, looking over their shoulders at all times, forced to accept subhuman living conditions.

As a reporter, I wrote about some of the farm workers in Florida. It was heartbreaking. And I’ve read even more horrific stories by other writers. Do you recall the case of slavery that was successfully prosecuted in Lake Placid? Yes, labor recruiters sometimes enslave the poor wretches they bring to America.

I can understand why those Republican politicians are ranting and raving about the President’s plan. A lot of their constituents bitterly resent foreigners flooding their neighborhoods, talking in a strange tongue and looking and acting “different” – possibly even competing with them for their jobs.

And there are legitimate concerns about border security.

But, once again, as the late Ted Kennedy put it, President Obama is “listening to his better angels.” What he is about to do may not be “fair,” but – all things considered – it is the right hing to do.

Click for more on the President’s plan.

Click for more on undocumented workers.


The Threat to Medicare


I don’t think I could survive without Medicare. As an 80-year-old diabetic with a heart condition, failing kidneys and various other ailments, it would be impossible for me to afford the medical care I need. And I am not alone. Far from it. To many – perhaps most – of us older Americans, Medicare is the difference between life and death.

So you can imagine my horror at the prospect of losing it. And that seems quite possible as the Republicans get set to “govern.”

According to Salon’s Joan Walsh:

High on their list, according to the New York Times, is implementing Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to “overhaul” Medicare by replacing it with “premium support” vouchers designed to privatize the system over the coming decades. They will also form a commission to examine “options” for Social Security, which Ryan has also long favored privatizing.

How scary is that? I can just see me shopping around for some private health insurance plan armed with a “voucher” that may not cover the premiums.

Social Security and Medicaid are also in grave danger. The Republicans hate “social programs” and  have been trying to get rid of them from the beginning. Now they have their chance.

What’s to become of the thousands of older Americans who depend on Medicaid to pay for their nursing home care? What’s to become of the disabled?

We know how Republicans hate food stamps and WIC. We know the unemployed are in for a rough two years. And we know poor children will lose their school lunches. It’s all spelled out in the Ryan Budget, which Republicans have adopted.

We seniors knew before the election that Republicans would target the money we get as they slash taxes for corporations and the rich. And yet the GOP won voters over 65 by 16 points!

But does that mean we deserve what’s coming? Must those of us who voted Democrat share the pain of those who brought the GOP to power?

It looks like it.

We can only hope Democrats in the Senate will use the filibuster as vigorously as the Republicans did when they were in the minority. And we must depend on President Obama’s veto power as our last line of defense.

Click for Joan Walsh’s column.

Click for more on the Ryan budget.